Fasting Fosters Jewish-Muslim Friendship in Brooklyn

Musicians from the Turkish Cultural Center serenaded guests upon their arrival, and performed at various points during the Iftar. (Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate via Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Musicians from the Turkish Cultural Center performed during the Iftar. (Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate via Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

The Jewish and the Turkish Muslim communities in Brooklyn are strengthening their relations using the common religious practice of fasting, reports Francesca Norsen Tate in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The Jewish community fasts on Tisha B’Av or the 9th day of Av. This year, the day fell on July 16. Av is the fifth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Hebrew calendar, commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Muslims fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims believe that Prophet Mohammad received the revelation from God during this month.

The Jewish and Muslim communities end their fasts at sunset. Muslims call the fast-breaking meal “Iftar.” The common time for breaking the fast inspired the Turkish Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan, the Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Park Slope and the Kings Bay YMHA, also in Brooklyn, to hold a joint break-the-fast meal. Peace Islands Institute, a non-profit organization that is experienced in this very work, helped organize the event.

“Basically, we form dialogue groups and understanding between religious groups,” Ibrahim Sayar told the Brooklyn Eagle during the Iftar. Mr. Sayar is the director of the Peace Island Institute’s Center for Interfaith Affairs.  They have worked with Congregation Beth Elohim in recent years. “This kind of event is not new,” Sayar explains. “They had a similar program with the Jewish Theological Seminary, for example. We have different programs with different communities: different churches, different churches and different temples—and even Buddhist groups, not only Jewish people.”

Working in seven U.S. states, including New York, Sayar knows from experience that “it really helps to bring people together, give them first-hand experience of the other. Because the information that we are receiving about the other culture is usually from second-hand or third-hand: through media or the books that we know. And the media can be sometimes deceiving.”

Fasting is a shared practice, and is common to several religious traditions. “I think Ramadan is one of those occasions when we can share this kind of experience,” said Sayar. “Particularly today, since the Jewish community and Muslim community are fasting at the same time. And breaking fast at the same table means a lot.”

Rabbi Marc Katz, the assistant rabbi at CBE is equally delighted at joining hands with the other two organizations to build bridges of friendship and understanding.

“We’re so glad that within their relationship that they’ve been building, they’ve brought our community in as well. From our previous years of engagement with the Kings Bay Y, and our new engagement with the Turkish Cultural Center, we’re so happy to be building these bridges, and especially to be forming these relationships.”

Leonard Petlakh, executive director of the Kings Bay Y, was all praise for the idea of organizing a fast breaking event at a synagogue.

“It’s beyond a place of worship: it’s a cultural center, it’s a real spiritual center for the community of Park Slope.” Mr. Petlakh also saluted CBE’s Senior Rabbi Andy Bachman, who was in Israel at the time of the event.

Zafer Akin, president of Peace Islands Institute, pointed at the commonalities the Jewish and the Turkish communities have.

“The Turkish community and Jewish community—we have so much in common: Devotion to our families, our mosques, synagogues, and dedication to peace. The idea behind tonight’s event is to show that we both have our own values, our own culture, our own backgrounds, and yet we can still come together: not just in an atmosphere of friendship, but as a family.”

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